Until the morning of September 11, people who believed in strong military, mighty intelligence services, and significant defense funding were an outdated species from the past who did not jump the hurdle of modernity. Since the end of World War II, our world has lived through peaceful times, except for eternal local wars and a few serious scares. In short, no generalized conflicts justified considerable military and intelligence expenses in the eye of public opinion.
With the diminished magnitude and recurrence of great conflicts, society chose to focus on other priorities. Governments cut military expenses. Health and education became fundamental issues in the political world. Interests groups mushroomed, each community or social group fighting to get the largest possible piece of the pie. We took defense – and everything that it implied – for granted.
With the Western world’s (false) sense of security, convictions about the significance of safety measures let their believers appear as aging relics who had forgotten to negotiate the curve on the road to the new millennium. With computers and electronic intelligence that demolished previous records of progress every year, there was nothing to worry about, right? With a new era of peace and the nuclear balance of terror, nobody would ever press the red button, right? As the world’s policeman and guardian of democracy, the United States’ status of superpower would guarantee lasting peace, right?
Wrong! The catastrophe that hit New York, Washington, and Pennsylvania had wrecked decades of idealistic thought (for a new, peaceful historical era) and widespread individualism. We were so caught up with our personal lives and interest groups, and we were so sure that the Western world was safe, that we let our guard down and forgot the most primitive of all needs: security.
We forgot that to stop the violent nut who has terrorism in mind, human beings need to infiltrate organizations. No radar will detect intentions.
We forgot that to thrive and survive, democracy has to put on combat boots every once in a while. This is one of those times. I wish that the views I just articulated were foolish and delusional, but they are not. Never were they.
As lands of freedom, who are we (the democracies) fighting against? Terrorism, the enemy without a national identity. How do we fight that enemy? By destroying what makes it strong. Instead of attacking military targets and war resources, we have to obliterate its funding and shelter. How hard is it going to be? Extremely. It could be an eternal, boundless war.
How did it become an enemy? We let it grow. Humanity has always let its potential enemies develop and attack before realizing the likelihood of danger. We react when it is too late; that is a most human behavior.
Until now, few acts of terrorism took place in the U.S. Think of the World Trade Center in 1993 and Oklahoma City in 1995. Instead of recognizing the incessant threat of an enemy that learned from its mistakes and grew continuously, our world took the risk to limit its measures to damage control and punishment of perpetrators. Never did we bother to strike at the root of the problem.
A consequence of that negligence is that our naive fantasies of permanent world peace fell apart. I always thought that although history does not repeat itself, we should learn from it and grasp that there are almost inevitable cycles. In my opinion, one of these cycles brings the world through times of peace and times of conflict. We have never escaped it.
In 1815, after taxing years of battles, Metternich, Castlereagh, Talleyrand, and the other European leaders thought that after Napoléon’s defeat, reinstating the Ancien Régime would guarantee lasting peace. They thought that they would, by reestablishing the equilibrium of power between dominant countries and by crushing revolutionary forces, eradicate the menace of war.
In 1928, with the Kellogg-Briand Pact, 15 world powers thought that they could ban war by ruling it out as an instrument of foreign policy.
The efforts made to eradicate armed conflict and make our world a safe place without the need to utilize force have been brilliant, imperative, and admirable, but also futile. Although we would live better lives without it, war follows us around, and it has always been one of humanity’s most persistent companions. When we think that it has finally left us, it raises its ugly head out and stares us in the eyes.
There is only one method to ensure peace: Fight for it. After that, enforce it.
We fought for it. We fought several times to bring peace back. On the other hand, we have always failed to enforce it. The 1918-39 period was a prime example. The countries that had to unite in order to guarantee peace after the First World War had done it intermittently. When faced with threats, they turned to appeasement.
Although the reaction was better when terrorism first stepped on North American territory, we failed to wipe out an adversary in the making.
War and enemies are like the flu. We fight them and win, but they always come back in different forms. We have to admit it at last and keep security on top of our priorities at all times, even if it means making sacrifices in terms of other government expenses.
Otherwise, history’s imperceptible cycles will catch us pants down again. Thousands of innocent victims will pay the price.
Are we ever going to learn?
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